It was a humid evening on Camden Road, when Québécois doom band Cauchemar came to London for the UK spot of their European tour. Sharing stage duties with English thrash outfit Deceptor, both names played a heady yet fast-paced night of metal.
Aside from minor confusion as to when the show would start, The Unicorn was a fitting site, owing to the stage’s small, intimate space at the back of the free entry pub.
Support came from the Sussex-based Riddles; a fresh-faced trio invested in not just the sound but the look of the 1970’s prog rock scene. From cheap, sci-fi sound effects to the bassist’s dark, mop-top hairstyle; the mood was set for their music.
True to the nature of much retro worship, a decent stream of rock ‘n’ roll played out through heavy drum intros and lengthy guitar and bass jams onstage. The boys knew how to play their tools of the trade, and didn’t waste any time in showing this off as loudly as possible.
Yet for all their musicianship, Riddles’ appeal wore off well before they could finish. Pushing aside that each song effectively bled into one another, making it hard to determine which numbers were just about to begin; the endless doodling onstage meant that the band were so self-absorbed that they failed to take into account that they were performing to a live audience, rather than just themselves. Even the few, overly enthusiastic (and possibly drunk) headbangers near the front gradually lost interest, due to such non-engagement with the crowd.
Afterwards, it was time for Cauchemar, one of the main draws of the night, to step up.
Despite the extra wait during a ten minute sound check, the audience happily greeted the band when they began to play.
In a genre saturated with youngsters invested in only mimicking heavy rock sounds of the 1960’s, Cauchemar are set in the occult roots of traditional, doom metal. Draped in a long. black hooded cloak and with lit candle to match, frontwoman Annick Giroux solemnly rose to her feet, preparing for what was to come.
Opening with earlier track ‘Magie Rouge‘, the group began with solid, lively riffs while Giroux’ voice came out in a smooth, ghostly tremor. This created a haunting yet energetic atmosphere, which built itself up throughout the show. Changes in musical arrangements can be a strong point in any musician’s instrumentation, and Cauchemar wisely put this to their advantage at The Unicorn by using each song to pick up speed. Following ‘Magie Rouge‘, the likes of ‘Les Ailes De La Mort‘, ‘Trois Mondes‘ and ‘Le Fantôme‘ made the set grow faster, harder and more enjoyably aggressive with their rhythms.
Overall, it was Cauchemar’s presence as a live, performing band which drew out head-bobbing enthusiasm from the crowd. Despite technical problems which made Annick Giroux’s voice the background to her bandmates’ instruments (a “happy accident” in the case of the opening number’s ghostly mood); the frontwoman fixed her eyes on her audience, and with inviting arm gestures, brought their attention closer into the music. Her moves onstage, from strumming air guitar to keeping her feet in tune with her band’s riffs, came together with the rest of the show to create a hypnotic experience.
If Cauchemar awakened metal-goers’ liveliness at The Unicorn, then final act, Deceptor, took it even further.
Beginning slowly, but then picking up pace through the track ‘To Know Infinity‘, Deceptor marked the night’s shift from heavy doom to speed and thrash metal. The crowd, now with noticeably more younger faces at the front, eagerly ate this up as they headbanged and fist pumped more furiously than previously. This worked entirely in the band’s favour, when they moved onto more aggressive notes (with the occasional, deep rasped vocals) in ‘Heatseeker‘, ‘Oracle‘ and ‘Kursk‘ to keep up momentum.
While the set time slot of forty to fifty minutes meant that Deceptor in turn couldn’t play more than eight songs, they were still able to pay tribute to one of their peers. In his banter with the crowd, frontman Paul Fulda declared that to honour Cauchemar who were from Canada, his own band shall cover Canadian thrashers Razor.
The euphoria at the back of The Unicorn was immense, thanks to the chemistry between this trio and their live audience. Though the space was too tight for a full-on moshpit to take place; the intimacy that it provided was high enough to allow a few individuals to safely crowd surf at the show with ease.